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Everything old is new again…

By Cipperly Good, the Richard Saltonstall Jr. Curator of Maritime History

The sea chantey is the moment’s hottest fad on TikTok, a social media platform dedicated to song and dance. The chantey is meant to be bellowed six feet apart and to bring disparate work crews from many different nationalities, ethnicities, and socio-economic backgrounds into alignment to “pull together” towards a common purpose. In the nineteenth century, it got sailing, fishing, and railroad crews to act as a unified force of effort. Today, the chantey allows us to raucously sing together in call and response, albeit remotely, into the isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a tense presidential transfer of power, a racial reckoning, and seasonal affective disorder.

Although sea chanteys are an oral tradition that allowed the chanteyman to adapt the words to include inside jokes only the crew understood and pointed references to the bully mate or captain in coded language, some intrepid collectors copied down their favorite versions. Luckily for us at Penobscot Marine Museum (PMM), our very own Joanna Carver Colcord (1882-1960), a Searsport Sea Captain’s daughter and founding member of PMM, was one such compiler. In her foreword to Roll and Go: Songs of American Sailormen, written in 1924, she writes:

The following examples of these work-songs of the sea are drawn in part from my own memories of years spent on blue water under sail from 1890 to 1899, mostly on voyages between New York and various ports in the China Sea. In part, they are songs learned from my father, who loved them and sang them well, and whose seagoing began about the year 1874. This makes my versions of the songs later than the “classical” period of shanty-singing, which extended from about 1840 to the time of the Civil War. I also owe grateful acknowledgement to many shanty-singers still alive…

Shanties naturally fall into three main divisions on a scale of occupational classification: short-drag shanties [i.e. hauling sail onto top of yard], halyard shanties [i.e. raising sail], and windlass or capstan shanties [i.e.hauling up anchor]. The form of the shanty for each of these three divisions is quite different, since it is fitted to an altogether different job aboard ship. I have used this natural classification in the following pages as a means of dividing the collection into readable lengths, and also as an aid to the general reader in forming a clear conception of what the shanty stood for and how it was used.

Of course, when setting out to be the expert on a topic, there is always push back. Colcord lays out two pages of debate on the spelling of shanty versus chantey in her foreword. In our collection, we have correspondence between Colcord and Gershom Bradford on whether the song “Shenandoah” could be a halyard or capstan shanty:

PMM 29-1062, Colcord Collection

October 30, 1936
My dear Miss Colcord,
In my copy of your Roll and Go, Shenandoah is classed as a capstan shanty. I would like to ask if you ever heard it used in hoisting topsails or do you think it was ever used in that operation?
The reason I ask this is that my uncle who sailed in the Ocean Pearl in the 50’s as a seaman (later a captain in the Coast Survey) once told me the grandest music he ever heard was Shenandoah sung in gale when reefing topsails. He, or I, may not have been correct in our memories.
Just what constitutes a Sou’ Spainer? South of Spain or a real deepwaterman from around the “Capes”?I enjoyed your article in Yachting some months back.
Sincerely,
Gershom Bradford


PMM 29-1062, Colcord Collection

November 13, 1936
My dear Mr. Bradford
I have no doubt that Shenandoah was sometimes used as a topsail halyard shanty—indeed, its form, like that of Sally Brown and Goodbye, Fare Ye Well, indicates that it probably started life in that fashion. Some chance would seem to have led these songs being more frequently used, in later years, as capstan shanties.
The term ”Sou’Spainer” was not used in American sea-jargon, at least in my day. I have run across it in Masefield, and believe it must have been a British expression. the Yankee expression for a Mediterranean voyage was ”up the Straits”; I knew of no term by which the vessel or the seaman habitually in that trade was described….
Sincerely yours


Gershom Bradford III (1879-1978), who wrote the letter of inquiry to Joanna Colcord, was no stranger to the sea. He trained at the forerunner of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy to be a merchant marine captain, served as a bridge officer for the East Coast steamers used by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, rose to the rank of lieutenant as a navigator in the Navy Hydrographic Office, and trained the next generation of navigators at the US Shipping Board School in Boston. Bradford was in charge of writing the Notice to Mariners, put out by the Naval Hydrographic Office to correct errors or changes on nautical charts. In his private time, Bradford published books and articles on sailing and navigation, and like Joanna, wrote about sea terms. His book was titled: The Mariner’s Dictionary: A Glossary of Sea Terms, whereas Joanna’s was Sea Language Comes Ashore. Both also published articles in The American Neptune.

His uncle, and namesake, Gershom Bradford II (1838-1918), as noted in the letter, served as a seaman on the OCEAN PEARL in the 1850s, and later as a nautical surveyor and captain in the US Coast Survey. The US Coast Survey, which was renamed the Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1878, and finally became part of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in 1970, surveyed and created maps for mariners. Bradford’s name shows up as the Hydrographic Inspector on nautical charts. At the time of his 1871 marriage in San Francisco to fellow Duxbury, Massachusetts native Minnie Winsor, Bradford was an assistant on the US Coast Survey schooner MARCY surveying the shoals and coastlines of the United States. Minnie joined him on the surveys aboard the MARCY and later the YUKON and PALINURUS. While government ships are not known for their sea chanteys, Bradford definitely used the work songs in his time in the merchant marine. The OCEAN PEARL mentioned in the letter could possibly be the ship built in Charlestown, Massachusetts by T. McGowan in 1853.

An Outdoor Living

LB2017.19.41675

It’s November, and we’re in the later part of deer hunting season in Maine. Here’s a tip of the hat to those who hunt and fish. The sporting industry is vibrant in our state, and given the millions of acres of pristine ponds, lakes, and woods here, and the endless miles of rivers and streams, it was inevitable that people with expert knowledge of these environs would create an economic niche for themselves: the Maine Guides. While people have hired these services out for two hundred years or more, Maine didn’t formalize the practice until a piece of 1897 legislation began to require registration. The first registered Maine Guide was a woman: Cornilia Thurza Crosby, known colloquially as Fly Rod, was also an early popularizer of sporting in Maine. (Wikipedia, “Maine Guides”, n.d.)

LB2017.19.2560

When homegrown talent Kosti Ruohomaa, who exalted Maine folk life throughout his career as a photojournalist, visited Maine Guide Ed DeMar in 1958, DeMar was an elder statesman of the profession. A native of the Rangeley Lakes region, he was intimately familiar with the woods and waters there and a born steward of wild places. As expected, he knew where to find salmon and deer, was a wily storyteller, a friend to his fellow guides and clients but also to the wardens and state wildlife professionals who sustained the regulatory boundaries he operated within.

LB2017.19.2518

DeMar was a longtime officer in the Rangeley Lakes Guide Association, a sort of local workers’ union for old fashioned New England conservatives. The Association established pay ranges for guides and outlined standards for working conditions. At the time, they represented around 130 guides.

LB2017.19.2566

His propensity for the outdoors apparently dominated his character: in the off season, he sometimes signed on with logging companies and spent his winters at lumber camps in Maine’s north woods.

LB2017.19.2636

Guiding almost always selected for competence. Then as now, the job required not only expertise in the wilderness, but a strong moral backbone, a quick head, a radar for danger, confidence in one’s leadership, charisma, and an unflappable sense of humor.

Their excellence garnered benefits. Their clients, known in the trade as “sports”, customarily returned to the same guide year after year, cementing long and friendly connections. They often sent gifts to their guides from back at home. They tended to be successful professionals, who didn’t mind paying $150 a day to be shown to hunting and fishing grounds or to pay the equivalent of $180 per pound for fish they caught themselves.

To all who are hunting this season: keep safe, enjoy the woods, and have fun.

LB2017.19.2634

Frederick Ross Sweetser

Fredrick Ross Sweetser Collection #LB2003.61.101

By David Ruberti

I have just finished another one of our small photo collections to add to our on-line database. Not only does this chronicle the photographer’s family but his home, the town of Searsport, where I work and many of you live, and its sea-going families. This is a collection of 400 images by amateur photographer Frederick Ross Sweetser who was born in Searsport, Maine on May 15, 1853, the son of Capt. Jeremiah and Susan (French) Sweetser. In his youth he accompanied his father on long sea voyages. His first music lessons were in Holland and very early in his life he showed a very decided talent for music and it became his life’s work. For 44 years he taught at Boxwood Manor, a school for young ladies in Old Lyme, Conn.

He accompanied innumerable church and concert singers. He numbered among his friends many of the high-ups in musical, literary and theatrical circles. He enjoyed a lifelong friendship with the famous opera star Anna Louise Cary.

Joanna Colcord Collection #LB2003.61.3

He was exceedingly fond of his native town and when vacation time came, he never failed to come back to Searsport, where he spent many happy summers at the old homestead, a dignified old Colonial brick house set picturesquely on a hill back from Main Street.
When at home in the summer he took an active part in the musical life of the town and often put on operas and other musical entertainments for the benefit of various organizations. In 1918 he retired to spend the remainder of his life in Searsport. He organized a large piano class in Belfast, where he had a studio, usually returning to Searsport on the weekends.

His sister, Jane “Jennie” Sweetser married the noted merchant ship captain Lincoln Alden Colcord, who sailed from Searsport on numerous ships over his lifetime of going to sea. Capt. Colcord and his wife Jane embarked on a three-year voyage aboard the sailing vessel Charlotte A. Littlefield on their wedding night, June 4, 1881.

Joanna Colcord Collection #LB2003.61.103

They were the parents of noted writer and journalist Lincoln Ross Colcord, and pioneering social worker and writer Joanna Carver Colcord, both of which were born at sea aboard the Charlotte Littlefield.

It is assumed that “Frank” Sweetser’s niece, Joanna acquired her love of photography from her uncle. The Joanna Colcord collection at the museum consists of 700 glass plate negatives, an annotated scrapbook of her own photos, and postcards of the places she visited in her travels.

Sweetser died on April 15, 1924 and his funeral was held at the First Congregational Church here in Searsport.

Frederick Ross Sweetser Collection

Joanna Colcord Collection

A Long Look Back

pictured L to R: Dave Lowell; Gene Dalrymple; PMM’s Matt Wheeler

Gene Dalrymple would probably not be considered a native by some people’s reckoning, but his 97-year association with Marshall Point in Port Clyde, Maine, makes him a local by ours. Dalrymple grew up outside of Boston, but his maternal grandfather was the last keeper at Marshall Point Light during the US Lighthouse Service era; his tenure there (July 1874 to May 1919) was the longest in the history of the Service. Dalrymple’s mother was born in the lighthouse; his family were at home when the original mortared stone keeper’s house was struck by lightning in 1895 (there were no casualties but the building itself, which had to be replaced).

Gene himself was born in the cottage pictured above, which was built on land his grandfather bought on the Point. He travelled with his mother by steamer from Boston each summer to spend the warm months at Port Clyde. A historian by nature, Gene has an ear for stories and a keen interest in the people around him. Throughout his adulthood, as a dentist whose primary residence was in Camden, Dalrymple continued to return to this peninsula, a working port and a summer haunt for many, including luminaries such as the three generations of painterly Wyeths. Dave Lowell, a former Tenants Harbor resident and a friend of PMM’s, made Gene’s acquaintance over a period of years; he encouraged a meeting, knowing that our photography holdings included a generous lode of old Port Clyde images. Since many of our images are undescribed, we jumped at the chance to hear more about this richly-storied place. Starting in 2013, with Gene’s guidance and with the enthusiastic participation of several other local elders, we began to piece together a narrative.

The effort has brought us to the point of planning a Port Clyde photo book. The book will include wide views of the harbor with labels identifying historic homes and businesses, street scenes, photos of local buildings—homes, hotels, businesses which are local landmarks or are no longer standing—and waterfront views. Its captions will recall a thriving center of commerce and the characters who made the place lively and memorable. There’s still a lot of work to do, including further interviews with additional sources. As Gene exhorts us, “This thing has got to be 110% right”. We agree. The prospect of revealing this world before it succumbs to the blurring of time excites us. Stay tuned.

Everything Isn’t on the Internet

by Deborah Nowers

This is my pitch for the library. We received a request for information on Joseph Blanchard Ames who was the grandfather or great-grandfather of the requester’s grandmother Marie Donaldson Ames. He requested genealogy of Joseph Blanchard Ames in order to determine how the family got from Marshfield, MA to Maine.
 
Using the FindAGrave website, one of my colleagues found that Joseph Blanchard Ames was the father of Marie Donaldson Ames. Joseph was born in Searsport on January 30, 1846–that was the Maine connection—and died in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1915. His parents were Elisha Ames born in Marshfield, Massachusetts and Orilla B. (Parker) Ames born 12 August 1823 in Maine (town unknown). He speculated that the parents had lived in Maine at some time and then moved to Massachusetts. That was as far as he got before he ran out of time.

The research question became, “Why was Joseph born in Searsport?” Information on the internet provided no help. Because I knew there was an Ames family on Islesboro, I looked there. First searching the library’s copy of John Pendleton Farrow’s History of Islesborough., Maine. The Ames family came from Marshfield, Massachusetts, so probably relatives, but Elisha was not included. Since Joseph was reportedly born in Searsport, I next checked the published vital records in the reading room. It did not include a record of his birth. I had reached a dead end on Ames.

I then decided to search for his mother, since she was the one born in Maine. I hoped her uncommon first name—Orilla—would help. I went back to Searsport. There was no listing for Orilla B. Parker in the index, but Orilla B. Park was there. There was just one entry, in the Church Members in Searsport, “Orilla B. Park Dist [dismissed] to Mt. Vernon Chh Boston Aug. 25, 1844.” Because Searsport was incorporated after Orilla’s birth, I then searched in Prospect, Searsport’s mother town. And there she was in the published Vital Records, “Orilla B. daughter of Mr. Joseph & Mrs. Catherine Park born Augt. 17th 1824.” The transcription on FindAGrave had a different last name and birth date, but with no photograph of the stone it is unclear where the error lies. Joseph and Catherine’s marriage record in Prospect gives her maiden name Griffin.

From the records, we can make a narrative. Orilla B. Park was born in Prospect to Joseph and Catherine (Griffin) Park. The family likely lived on the west side of Prospect that became part of Searsport. Orilla was a member of the Church in Searsport when she was dismissed to the Mt. Vernon Church in Boston in 1844. The next year on April 3, 1845, she married Elisha Ames in Boston. It is likely that she was with or went home to her mother to have her baby Joseph Blanchard in January 1846.

Although many genealogical records have been transcribed and digitized for the internet, many have not. Small towns in Maine will be low priority for these efforts for some time. The record you need, may well exist only in a book, likely in a library. The Collection in the Phillips Library, had all I needed to answer this query.

Search for St. Frances

Ship ST. FRANCES, Applebee Collection, LB1980.222.407

By John Golden

Recently we received a request from a gentleman who is writing an article about the ST. FRANCES or ST. FRANCIS.
 
An initial search of an online local database of ships built in Maine didn’t reveal any record of a ship named ST. FRANCES or ST. FRANCIS.

Moving on to another resource, Merchant Sail, by William Armstrong Fairburn, there indeed was a ship named ST. FRANCES built in May of 1882 by John McDonald in Bath, Maine. The paragraph went on to explain that the ST. FRANCES was a wooden ship of 1,898 tons and three masts built for Flint and Co. (New York). The ship was sold in October 1899 to the city of San Francisco. It was resold to salmon packers in 1909 and finally wrecked in Alaska, while engaged in this trade on May 14, 1917 at the age of thirty-five.

Checking another resource, Record of American and Foreign Shipping, confirmed the basic information about the ship (owner and size and date built).

Merchant Sail, in a later volume had a biography of John McDonald which listed the ship as the ST. FRANCIS. The ship described was the same one as the specifications and date of construction matched. It appears that the spelling of the ship’s name was probably misspelled in some documentation.

Finding What is Hiding in Plain Sight

by Deborah Nowers

This is a story that starts and ends with PMM… well, it never ends, because it is a genealogy story.

It began with a request to look at the history of the Fowler-True-Ross House at the museum. I described that project in the first issue of this newsletter last spring. An early owner of the property where the Fowler house now stands–and where the Phillips Library was built—was Robert Lord Sargent. He was a land speculator and sold the property after a year. My research might have ended here if internet sources hadn’t listed his wife as Mary Dodge, who—as only a family researcher would know—was my husband Henry’s first cousin 5 times removed. I had been researching the descendants in that family.

This Mary Dodge appeared again as I prepared a sketch of her father Simon Dodge, Jr. for the Maine Genealogical Society’s project to document all individuals enumerated in Maine for the first U. S. Census in 1790. The sketch would outline the head of household and identify his or her spouse and children. The History of Islesborough, where the Dodges lived, indicated that Simon’s daughter Mary married “_____ Sargent.” Someone had written “Robert L.” in the copy at the Belfast Library. Now there was a challenge no genealogist could ignore. Could I prove it was Robert Lord Sargent? That search involved looking at every vital record I could find on the family in Prospect (now Searsport), Belfast and Monroe. Deeds documented his purchase and sale of land and often included his wife Mary. U. S. Census records for 1800 in Prospect, 1810 and 1820 in Belfast, and 1830 and 1840 in Monroe showed the family’s movement, but only the head of household listed by name.

Naming patterns often give hints to unknown family connections. Robert and Mary named children for themselves—Robert and Polly and for his father—Winthrop. More helpful was two daughters named Experience—the name of Mary Dodge’s oldest sister—and Noah D., her oldest brother.

I tried looking at Robert’s life for some hint. From the deeds, it was clear he was buying and selling land. He was referred to as “Deacon” in 1814 when his eldest daughter died in Belfast. An internet search turned up a transcript of a letter Robert had written to his son Winthrop and family in 1831 from Mobile, Alabama. He is clearly in financial trouble and was not expecting to see them again. “When we Shall meet togher again none knows but the LORD. If you wish to see me your father Remember you must Ask leave of GOD But let us be contened we shall Se and know one another in a nother State of Existence where my hopes and wishes will be fully satisfied forever.” He went on to say that he had gifts for Moses, Noah and Johnson, but “I have not have Cash Enough to come home as i whant to.” He also refers to his debts in Maine. “Pray for me and be kind to your mother. I send my Love to hir and you all tell Mr. Alline and all I owe that I have hopes to come home able to pay them of before I Die.”

It is not common to see a long letter from 1831 that shows the personality of the research subject and I was delighted. I tried to reach the person who had posted the transcript. I received no reply and filed the information away. Unfortunately, I was no closer to identifying Robert’s wife Mary.

I did wonder if Robert had returned. He was enumerated in Monroe with Mary in the 1840 census, but I know from other families, that he may not have been living there. Mary is enumerated in 1850 with her daughter Experience Knight, so he had likely died by then. Mary died in 1851. The Republican Journal published a death notice on 7 March 1851 and her gravestone stands in Mt. Rest Cemetery in Monroe.

This daughter Experience was the key to Identifying Mary’s family. It gave me my only piece of documentation. Twice married Experience (Sargent) (Knight) Curtis died in Monroe 11 February 1901. Her death certificate lists the names of her parents—Robert Sargent and Mary Dodge. Although it is not a primary document, I finally had some actual documentation from the family. I was satisfied.

This project also demonstrates my weakness as a researcher; my failure to seek out every possible source. I had used the vital records in the Phillips Library, the Jones Collection of records, published histories, and the information on the Fowler House. I had searched the Hancock and Waldo County Deeds and the U.S. Census. But I hadn’t looked really close at hand, at the Phillips Library “Family Boxes.” There in the “S” box was a folder for Thomas W. Sargent. In the folder, carefully sleeved in plastic was Robert’s letter to his family from 1831. It wouldn’t have helped in my search for Mary’s maiden name, but I could make corrections to the transcript. It also shows the material that is available to enrich our understanding of the early local families. I won’t neglect those boxes in the future!

Mutiny on the Bangalore?

Captain Frank Carver

John Golden, PMM Library Researcher

In mid-November, a gentleman from Pasadena, CA stopped by the Library and inquired about a Frank Carver, master of the ship BANGALORE.  Captain Carver was a long lost relative.

It seems that the family legend had it that Captain Carver was sailing to Singapore in 1897 when there was a mutiny on board the Bangalore led by the First Mate.  The legend continues that Carver physically threw the 1st Mate overboard and ended the mutiny.  Upon arriving at their destination of Singapore, Carver was stripped of command by the ship’s owners because of his actions.  Carver then continued on to Seattle and eventually California where his family ran a dairy farm.  Rumor has it that Carver spent much of his days imbibing at the local saloon and was a bit of a holy terror to his grandchildren.

Bangalore

The Carvers had a history in Searsport so it was pretty easy to find information on Frank.  Captain Carver died in Artesia, California on May 6, 1939 at the age of 76 years.  On March 6 of that year, he and his wife Nettie celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary.  Captain Carver’s obituary listed his many voyages and ships.  The obituary’s final paragraph states “The captain’s last command was the steel three sky-sail-yard ship, Bangalore, in which he went from New York to Java, Manila and London.  The Bangalore, later an American ship, was then under British flag and after completing his voyage in her, Captain Carver retired from sea life.”  Another obituary from the Artesia News states that “In 1895 the family came to Artesia where Mrs. Carver’s father and mother had purchased the home on Pioneer Blvd., where they have lived most of the years since.  In 1896, leaving the family in Artesia, he made his last voyage on the British Clipper, Bangalore, from New York to the Philippine Islands and home.”  Neither obituary made mention of any mutiny.  Researching the ship’s history we could find no indication of any mutiny during it’s time at sea.  The ship was lost at sea in 1908 carrying a load of coal from Norfolk, VA to Honolulu.

The BANGALORE itself had a history tied to Searsport.  A number of Searsport folks bought the vessel and established the Maine Navigation Company in 1896.  In addition to Frank Carver, her Searsport captains were Albert N. Blanchard, 1897-1898, 1900, 1901-1904, 1905, 1906;  and Phineas Banning Blanchard 1903-1908.  The BANGALORE was lost in a collision at sea in 1908.

NOTE:  There is a scale model of the BANGALORE in the lobby of the Stephen Phillips Library, as well as three paintings, eleven photographs and a set of her plans in the Museum collection.

Research in the Stephen Phillips Memorial Library

Cipperly Good dives into the local community records and bound Republican Journals.

Cipperly Good dives into the local community records and bound Republican Journals.

By Deborah Nowers, Library Research Volunteer

The Stephen Phillips Memorial Library is a hidden gem on Church Street. The library is a research non-circulating collection that includes information not easily found other places.  The library is open Tuesday through Friday from 9 am to 1 pm with volunteer researchers who like to dig into the collections.  It is best to call ahead, 207-548-2529 x212 or email libraryresearcher@pmm-maine.org, to be sure we will be there and give us an idea of what you are seeking.

As you would expect, we have books! In addition to books on a variety of maritime subjects, the collection includes vital record books, genealogies and town histories from all over New England and Eastern Canada.
  
There are also extensive genealogical collections that include the research files of a number of prominent local researchers—the largest from Priscilla Alden Jones.  The finding aid for the genealogical collections, include over 1200 family names in six collections.  In addition thirty-eight family boxes have folders with surprises including family photographs, bible records, wedding invitations….whatever a family might have saved.  There are finding aides for these boxes, but browsing is much more fun.

If you are interested in Searsport history, the collection includes census records, gravestone transcriptions, town records including town reports and tax records.  Want to track how old your house is or who lived in it?  We have answers!

We also have real bound copies of the Belfast Republican Journal beginning with its first issue in 1820.  These are very fragile, so we provide microfilm copies of the paper.  We feel it is our mission to preserve, and provide access, this historical perspective of life in Waldo County.  One of our researchers is transcribing the shipping news from this paper, and we all benefit from his thorough combing of the paper’s contents.

Finally, we are a marine museum and the marine collections are a treasure trove for research.  The largest collection is the Colcord Papers, 76 boxes full of letters, documents, logs and first person accounts from 1825 to 1903 related to the Colcords, a Searsport seafaring family.  The sixteen boxes of the Witherle Collection include the accounts and papers of the Castine general store Hook & Witherle and its succeeding configurations from 1808 to 1875.  The store supplied Castine residents and fishermen, acted as a chandlery and expanded to vessel management, international trade and shipbuilding. Records from these endeavors are included.

Want to research the career and fate of a sea captain or coastal or deep sea vessel, or the cargo and crew who shipped aboard a specific ship, our collection of vessel papers, logbooks and account books.  Two notable researchers have made some inroads into the collection:  Col. Frederick Frasier Black published the photographs and brief biographical sketches of  Searsport Sea Captains and Robert Applebee researched vessels built in and sailed from Maine by town and region.
 
There is no charge to use the library and we welcome visitors, local and far flung, to do research in our pleasant reading room.

Galveston Hurricane of 1900

 'KOSSAK', in the Harbor of Galveston after the Hurricane on the 19th and 20th of August in 1886" by Julius Stockfleth

‘KOSSAK’, in the Harbor of Galveston after the Hurricane on the 19th and 20th of August in 1886″ by Julius Stockfleth

By John Golden

On September 8-9, 1900 (Saturday to Sunday), a category 4 hurricane (130-140 mph winds) struck the city of Galveston, Texas. There were 6,000 to 8,000 people killed. It was the worst hurricane to ever strike the United States mainland.

Galveston was cut off from the rest of the country. The highest elevation was 9 feet above sea level. The storm had a 15 foot storm surge which obliterated the city. There was no radio or television, only telephone and telegraph service, neither of which was working after the storm.

The Republican Journal was the local newspaper in the Belfast/ Searsport area and they first reported on the storm in the September 13, 1900 issue with the headline “Galveston Storm Swept” dateline Galveston, Texas, Sept. 10. The initial estimates were 600 to 1,500 lives lost. In a later update from the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Relief Train outside of Galveston, the estimate was changed to “not less than 5,000 and may reach 10,000”. The Journal reported that “on Sunday morning the streets were lined with wounded and half-clad people. Fifteen men, all that remained of a company of 100 soldiers at the beach barracks marched down the street this morning.” The streets on the bay front were fully under 3 feet of water. A third update in the same issue stated that “The loss of life will be upward of 5,000 and that $40,000,000 will no more than cover the damage to property.” It is interesting to note that there were at least 3 updates to the same column in the paper three days after the initial report was received.

The September 20 issue had no additional information about the storm but published a short article entitled “About Galveston.” The article discusses other like disasters in the Gulf specifically a storm in August of 1856 which submerged Last Island off of the southern Louisiana coast. About 200 lives were lost in that storm.

The September 27 issue also had no information about the storm except for a short paragraph about cremation. “The cremation of the victims of the flood at Galveston recalls the fact that during the yellow fever epidemic at New Orleans in 1857 it was found necessary to burn the dead. The deaths numbered for a time some three hundred a day, and internment was impossible.”

October 4 Issue: Short paragraph: “Miss Helen Gould notified the army officials in New York that she would send, at her expense, 50,000 rations to distressed families in Galveston and the hurricane swept district.”

There is also a collection of press dispatches entitled “Freaks of the Galveston Storm.” One dispatch tells of two women who rode a wooden bathtub out into the Gulf of Mexico and returned the following day on the incoming tide. Another story tells of a young boy found at his home after the water had subsided “trying to scrape with his bare hands graves in the sand for his father, mother and sisters.”

A dispatch from The Chicago Times-Herald ran as follows, “Ray Ayers, an 8-year-old boy, unwittingly rescued his sister’s two babies during the flood. He was floating on a raft in Galveston when he passed a box with the two children in it. He seized them, but the weight was too heavy for his raft, and so he placed them on two bales of hay on top of a floating shed. When he found his sister he learned that her children were lost, and when a searching party discovered them they were sleeping, unconscious of their danger.”

October 18 – Mentions that a letter will be published next week from a correspondent “Giving a full and vivid account of the Galveston disaster.”

October 25 – The Red Cross Work in Texas Dateline: October 6, 1900. A letter from a member of Miss Clara Barton’s staff. Conditions were far worse than anticipated and the author failed to write anything for a month due to the overwhelming aid work that needed to be done. She goes on to say that the devastation as described by “yellow” journalists was true. She describes funeral pyres with “bodies stacked like cord-wood, black and white together, irrespective of age, sex or previous condition; when ghouls in human shape prowled cutting off ears and fingers for the jewelry.” At one point the bodies were put on barges and dumped in the ocean only to come back with the tide while attracting large numbers of sharks. She spends some time describing what it must have been like to have “the Gulf of Mexico stealing up into your dooryard.” Galveston’s cemeteries were not spared the devastation. Vaults were stripped of their contents where the floating boxes went out to sea. The Galveston News contained a novel advertisement; “A gentleman desires information concerning a plush covered coffin, containing a corpse, which was found on his premises, on the open prairie, 21 miles distant.” Galveston was a giant pile of kindling wood and scattered bricks. Many were stripped of clothing by the raging wind. She describes a walk where “I counted the remains of nineteen sewing machines within the space of half a block; several pianos, children’s hobby-horses, desks and trunks, now rifled of their contents, shreds of lace curtains and splintered furniture.” She concludes with a description of the many fires at night “each the cremation of human bodies and ruined homes.”

Following this article, there was another article entitled “GALVESTON A MONTH AFTER THE STORM.” Dateline: October 12, 1900. The article, apparently by the same author as the October 6 article, discusses how the people of Galveston first coped with the disaster and now how they are dealing with it on a day to day basis. As the weather turned colder there was a great need for warm clothing. The climate of Galveston is not tropical and there is a need for blankets and outerwear. Most of the remaining population lives in tents or halls or remaining structures with friends and family.

“Clara Barton has submitted plans for a four room cottage that can house 12 people. She believes that she can obtain the materials for approximately $200,000 and that they can be erected at a cost of $50,000.” It was estimated that 4,000 dwellings and their contents were washed away. The author continues by listing the basic materials required for each new dwelling along with items such as bedding, cutlery, stoves, chairs, tables etc.

November 22 – Final hurricane article in the Republican Journal. Dateline: Galveston, Texas, October 5, 1900. The article related how the Red Cross and the City of Galveston took care of the many orphans of the storm. Biographies of the individuals taking care of the children were documented. The article continues with a mention of the upcoming Christmas Holiday and the toys that the children will be receiving. The article ends with a description of how the Red Cross is helping the farmers of the area and how Clara Barton gave one thousand dollars to strawberry growers of the region for plants.

The city eventually recovered and erected a seawall in the bay to protect it against further storms and storm surges.